Istirihat Indonesia – an Indonesian Interlude (2013)

Jakarta Jams & Dirty Ducks

Jakarta, Indonesia / Wednesday 2 October 2013

This long weekend in Jakarta was planned some time ago when Shobs, with her newfound freedom, was planning holiday dates for the year. I’d never been to Jakarta so…

As it turned out, this Indonesian interlude (or any interlude really) was a much needed one. It’s been a ‘nose barely above water’ time at work, 13-14 hour work days with no time for the gym or very much else.

Our friendly limo driver once again offered his services and refused to be dissuaded, despite the early hour. So, at 5.45 in the morning today, we left for our (budget) flight in (BMW – diesel) style. Thank you Brian!

Jetstar was a first for us – it was reasonably comfortable; possibly because we had fortified ourselves with a Ya Kun breakfast before boarding.

Jakarta jam – the worst it got…how disappointing!

At the Jakarta end, immigration, bags and taxi (Silver Bird) all went smoothly – we even got an upgrade to a very comfy Alphard MPV. I was all set to get into a famed Jakarta traffic jam and Shobs assured me it would take at least one and a half to hours to get to the hotel. Kilometre after kilometre went past with no sign of jam. Shobs alternated between “I’m sure the jam will start after this toll” and “I don’t know what they’ve done.” Long story short – there was no jam and we reached the hotel in 50 minutes – an all-time record according to Shobs.

Lunch was at Plaza Indonesia which was just across the road from where we were staying at the Pullman Thamrin. We met up with Shob’s former colleagues at Din Tai Fung. Their Jakarta menu is almost completely different from the Singapore one and has Indonesian fare (with much chilli padi), Thai dishes and even Japanese ramen! The chilli oil was the same though.
It was a lazy-ish afternoon post-lunch – napping, gymming (gently), swimming (this was Shobs…more sitting by the pool actually from what I could see), then a wonderful 2-hour massage, before a super yummy dinner at the Dirty Duck with Chisca (another of Shob’s colleagues). The crispy fried duck was not dirty, just delicious.

A good first day, despite the lack of traffic jams. Tomorrow – Bandung.

Bandung is not from Bandung

Bandung, Indonesia / 3 October 2013

A quick breakfast and checkout before being picked up by Chisca and Salju (aka Snow…as in salji) for our trip to Bandung.

Got a brief glimpse of the JJ (Jakarta Jam), then we were on the highway heading for Bandung about 2 hours away. Bandung is the capital city of West Java, and the third largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta and Surabaya. I could see why it was called Parijs van Java (Paris of Java) by the Dutch. It still has colonial type buildings, a whole area called Pasteur (which was cause for much hilarity as our tour guide very confidently told us Pasteur had lived there…we had to consult Google to confirm this amazing fact, only to find no evidence of said residence).

We drove through the Dago area with its many factory outlets, interesting little cafes and boutique hotels, though maybe not so French anymore but more a mish-mash of European – many many Casas and Villas.

Next stop – lunch at Warong Lela in Lembeng after driving through narrow up-and-down roads. We had the house specialty – Yamin noodles and the best ginger tea I’ve ever had. The slivers of ginger actually tasted like young coconut. Portmanteau #1 – Warong Lela is known as Walé.

We had a choice then of visiting an angklung village or Tangkuban Parahu, a dormant volcano (according to Wikipedia) – or an active one, according to the Indonesian tourism site. We chose the volcano despite my glorious past as an angklung player (I was an excellent #F) under the tutelage of Bapak Suhaimi Nasution at the Convent Seremban.

It was an hour’s drive out to Tangkuban Parahu and on the way there we read up on the legend behind it – an Indonesian œdipal tale featuring Sangkurian and his mother (cursed with eternal youth), Dayang Sumbi. Unfortunately we got there half an hour too late to trek down into the crater, so we had to be content with taking photos of the Kawah Ratu (one of 4 volcanic craters there), taking in the sulphuric atmosphere, and fending off vendors touting all manner of souvenirs made from volcanic rock. On the drive to the hotel we decided to return to Tangkuban Parahu the next morning to hike down to the crater.

We finally checked in at the Hotel Padma after a day of driving. We were on the 8th floor – which is 8 floors down from the lobby (which is on road level). That evening we finally felt like we were in a cooler climate (which Bandung is supposed to have) – it was cool enough to need a jacket.


Dinner was at Dago Penyawangan – everything was excellent, from the cumi cumi to the sambal fish and tauhu, and the colenak (Portmanteau #2 – colenak is from ‘dicocol enak’), made of cassava, coconut and brown sugar. Yum! And I’ve not seen bandung on any of the menus so far…neither have our Indonesian friends heard of it! Another chop suey or roti canai?

Tonight, two more of Shobs’ ex- colleagues get in from Jakarta for a Bandung break with us.

Foot Massage in a (Dormant?) Volcanic Crater

Bandung, Indonesia / 4 October 2013

We were at breakfast at 6.30 for an early start back to the volcano. Met the two late arrivals, Devita and Nitta, who had got in close to midnight the previous day. Breakfast was very yummy (actually nothing has been not yummy so far); tried a few new things including something called surabi – a pancake-like thing served with a sweet sauce.
After breakfast, we piled into Salju’s Isuzu and were off for a second attempt at the crater. As on the day before, Shobs and I didn’t manage to pass off as Indonesian and had to pay the (higher) tourist entrance fee. We acquired an ‘official guide’ and set off on our hike through the woods to Kawah Domas. It was about 1.2km downhill, with many photo op stops – our guide (whose name was Sumarna and who told us he’s 62) was very enthusiastic about showing us various trees (including the amazing batik tree), edible roots and multihued mushrooms. He was also very enthusiastic about getting us to hang from branches and point at signs (much like the pictures in the newspapers of a certain neighbouring country and that of “Great Leader KJI pointing at things”). At one point he disappeared and I said to Shobs “He’s probably checking out the next photo op”…sure enough, we turned a corner and there was Sumarna, standing entirely inside a hollow tree trunk, and grinning at us waving peace signs…

We finally got to the base of the crater with its hot water pools, smoke/steam emanating from holes in the ground and bubbling hot mud (into which someone recently fell – he was only just discharged from hospital). At this point I was hoping the Wiki description was the correct one…though we later heard that as recently as last year, there was ‘activity’ detected and the government had almost evacuated the area. Gulp!

But for now, the bubbling mud was as active as it got and I prayed it stayed that way. While Shobs, Salju and Sumarna wandered off down a slightly more treacherous-looking track, I decided to soak my feet in one of the hot pools, while Chisca soaked up the sun.

After an unexpected mud foot massage by Sumarna, guaranteed to smoothen skin, we set off on the upward trek out of the crater. After much huffing and puffing (on my part; Chisca set off on a run in preparation for her 10k run on Sunday) we got to the Parkir (carpark) where Devita and Nitta were waiting with the car.

After checking out, it was time for lunch – at the Lawanwangi, a ‘design art space’ with scenic views and slightly weird art pieces. Then it was outlet shopping at Rumah Mode. After some initial confusion with the exchange rate, we concluded that the prices were actually pretty good.

Dozed for much of the way back to Jakarta, with snippets of conversation discussing the differences between sawi and chye sim making it through to my consciousness.

Dinner was at a place serving Makassar food – I think it was called Pelangi. The minute we got there, the girls went in search of power points to charge their phones and were quite happy to leave their phones charging in different corners of the cafe – something I’d not seen anywhere else!

Post-script – the supposedly dormant/inactive volcano erupted 3 times the day after we were there – either we angered the volcanic gods with our incessant camera clicking, or by soaking our ‘non licin’ legs in its hot pools… close shave!!

Old Town & the Jakarta Tagline

Jakarta, Indonesia / 5 October 2013

We thought that after all the driving of the previous day, Salju might want to have a lie-in today. But no, he said a 10am start (as suggested by us) was too late, so after breakfast we were picked up by Salju at 9.

First stop – the old town. It was a 50mm day for me and I realised (again) that shooting in 50mm makes me happier than most other mm! The old town was buzzing with activity – scouts and guides on an excursion, colourful bicycles lined up for rent, kids nonchalantly smoking…this was particularly discomfiting. The big boys of the tobacco industry seem to have a field day here, with humungous ad space and really in-your-face ads (“don’t say maybe…”).

Shobs was cornered by some tourism board surveyors and spent a good 20 minutes talking to them, while I wandered around in 50mm bliss. We found out from the surveyors that the tourism tagline for Jakarta is ‘Enjoy Jakarta’ – a tagline neither Salju nor we had heard of – and even after knowing about it, we didn’t see it anywhere. Hmm.

Next stop – the port, Sunda Kelapa. It was a real throwback in time how tourists could walk the length of the harbour with no security checks at all. Simply fabulous for photography…though an earlier start may have yielded better light.

After inching our way through Jakarta traffic (Shobs was vindicated), it was time for lunch. Lunch was nasi padang at Medan Baru. Bandung isn’t from Bandung. Is nasi padang from Padang? The food, wherever it was from, was delicious – we had fish head curry, beef rendang, fish roe, a certain delicious sambal that shall remain unnamed. There was a most civilised method of charging – you only pay for what you eat.

After the day’s exertions, it was back to the hotel for another 2-hour massage before dinner at an old friend’s home. This was another ridiculously lavish spread. It was a good for the soul sort of evening with delicious wine, too much amaretto and conversation that spanned more than 30 years.


Last Day…Impressions of Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia / Sunday 6 October 2013

The last day of this Indonesian interlude. Thamrin was closed for a run – so definitely no jam this morning.

I will remember this holiday for many things – the Jakarta jams (not as bad as I’d expected!), the super food, the security checks at the hotels and malls (always polite and with a smile, and slightly laid back), the dormant volcano that wasn’t, the best ginger tea, the keropok (oh wait, I’d already mentioned food), being a millionaire (with the exchange rate), the portmanteaux (colenak, Walè, monas for monumen nasional, Angkot for angkutan kota), meeting an old friend after a lifetime of adventure and tragedy…

But what I’ll remember most is the very generous hospitality shown by Salju (who drove through standstill traffic without even the slightest hint of impatience and who used up 2 days of precious leave on us), Chisca (who is master of the art of paying for meals while making it seem she’s going to the washroom), Devita and Nitta (who came all the way to Bandung late at night after work, to spend the day with us).

I know now what Shobs and several others mean when they say “It’s the people” when asked what it is they like most about Jakarta. It certainly was “the people” – these four, in particular, that made my Indonesian Interlude a special one.

Post-script: the trip to the airport from the hotel today took all of 25 minutes.


Old friends and new

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